About Author: Ed Holtum

Posts by Ed Holtum


Hardin Library Welcomes Donna Hirst

The Hardin Library for the Health Sciences extends a hearty welcome to Donna Hirst, its newest staff member.  Donna is a University of Iowa librarian of longstanding, having worked in the Main Library and Law Library in the area of automation for over 25 years.  In fact, Donna spearheaded the University Libraries first automation efforts and subsequently guided its progress toward the library information system now in use by University faculty, staff, and students.  Donna holds the M.A. degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa and the Master of Public Health Degree from the University of Oklahoma.  Her duties at the Hardin Library center largely on the collections and services of the John Martin Rare Book Room as she prepares to take over responsibility for this important resource when the current Curator, Ed Holtum, retires at the end of June.  When not enjoying books and reading, Donna enjoys travel, attending plays, and, “stalking her children.”


Notes from the John Martin Rare Book Room; James Medicinal Dictionary

James Medicinal DictionaryROBERT JAMES (1705-1776). A medicinal dictionary. 3 vols. London: T. Osborne, 1743-1745.

James studied at Oxford and was granted his M.D. from Cambridge by royal mandate in 1728. He settled in London after practicing at Sheffield, Lichfield, and Birmingham. A successful physician, he became quite wealthy and famous when his “fever powder” became the most popular nostrum of the day. The chief ingredients were lime phosphate and antimony oxide and the medicine was used as an emetic, purgative, diaphoretic, or alterative depending on the dose and condition of the patient. James authored a number of books but the present work is the one for which he is best remembered. 

 It remains the largest, most exhaustive, and most erudite English language medical dictionary written before the nineteenth century. It was published in weekly installments beginning in 1742 and ending in August of 1745. Although never identified or acknowledged by name, there is ample evidence that Samuel Johnson, a close friend and student of James, contributed to the dictionary.

 It is interesting that James includes a detailed  entry on the unicorn horn (shown here) at a time when most scientists had begun to doubt its existence.


Presentation on Disability and American Immigration Policy

The University of Iowa History of Medicine Society invites you to hear Douglas Baynton, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Iowa  speak on

Defectives in the Land: Disability and American Immigration Policy, 1882-1924
on Tuesday, February 23rd, 5:30 to 6:30, room 2032
Main Library.

Professor Baynton notes: The chief goal of early immigration law in the late-nineteenth-century United States was the exclusion of “defective” persons and races.  The advent of immigration law can be best understood in the context of the institutionalization of disabled people, sterilization of the “unfit,” euthanasia campaigns, sign language proscription, “unsightly beggar” laws, and a growing desire to keep disabled people out of sight.  The larger context, in turn, was a cultural transformation in the understanding of history, time, and progress.  

Light refreshments will be served


Presentation on the History of Malaria and DDT

The University of Iowa History of Medicine Society invites you to hear Patrick T. O’Shaughnessy, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa, speak on “Malaria and DDT: the History of a Controversial Association” on Tuesday, January 19th, 5:30 to 6:30, room 2032 Main Library

Dr. O’Shaughnessy observes:  “Although it helped prevent millions of cases of malaria after its widespread use in the 1950’s, the pesticide DDT was banned from use in the United States and fell out of favor as an agent to reduce cases of malaria around the world. This history of the events associated with the effort to eradicate malaria, as well as the environmental movement that led to the ban on DDT, will center on the story of a story that incorporated both issues and grew into a modern myth still seen in books and multiple websites today.”

The session is free and open to the public.  Light refreshments will be served.


Notes From the Rare Book Room –A Private Pestilence

holmes-portPuerperal fever, often called childbed fever, ravaged obstetrics patients in the U.S., Britain, and Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.  Its symptoms included severe abdominal pain, fever, and debility and carried a mortality rate as high as seventy percent during some epidemics.  Even though the greatest incidences occurred in close-quartered  “lying-in hospitals,” (state-supported maternity hospitals) only rarely did the notion of contagion figure into the arguments and these were largely ignored. 

 In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) published, The contagiousness of puerperal fever,in The New England quarterly journal of medicine and surgery.  In this moving, lucid, and somewhat acerbic paper, Holmes, then a prominent Boston physician and lecturer, demonstrated conclusively the contagious nature of childbed fever and, based on his and his colleagues experiences, showed that the dreaded disease was carried on the unwashed hands of the physician from patient to patient.  Holmes also set forth strict guidelines with regard to hand-washing, cleanliness, and physician isolation to avoid and cut short epidemics.  Sadly, Holmes’ warnings went largely unheeded partly due to the fact that his paper was published in a little-known journal but mostly because the medical establishment was unwilling to entertain the notion that “gentlemen physicians” could harbor disease.  Several years later, Vienna physician, Ignac Semmelweis (1818-1865), independently, verified Holmes’ conclusions by means of a controlled study based on hand-washing.  Even so, the contagiousness of puerperal fever was denied by many prominent physicians until the acceptance of the germ theory of disease in the late 1800’s at which time Holmes’ words from 1843 finally rang true:

Whatever indulgence may be granted to those who have heretofore been the ignorant cause of so much misery, the time has come when the existence of a private pestilence in the sphere of a single physician should be looked upon not as a misfortune but a crime.


History of Medicine Society Presentation Cancelled

This afternoon’s (December 9th) History of Medicine Society presentation, “Comrades in the Labor Room,” has been postponed due to the weather.  Watch this space for information regarding a new date for the talk.


“Comrades in the Labor Room” History of Medicine Presentation

On Wednesday, December 9, Paula Michaels, PhD, UI Department of History will present:  “Comrades in the Labor Room:  The International Story of the Lamaze Method.” 

Time:  5:30 to 6:30, December 9
Place:  Room 2032, Main Library
Light Refreshments will be served
Free and open to the public
For additional information, contact Ed Holtum; edwin-holtum@uiowa.edu; 335-9154

Professor Michaels writes, “The Lamaze method’s preparatory lessons, patterned breathing, and conscious relaxation became an integral part of American birth in the 1960s and 1970s, when the natural childbirth movement flourished. But, despite our familiarity with the Lamaze method, few know of its origins in the Soviet Union, the role of the French Communist Party in its promotion, and the deliberate efforts undertaken amid the Cold War to obscure these leftist ties in order to make the method palatable to Americans.”


John Martin Rare Book Room video available on Youtube

We have created a six minute video introduction to the John Martin Rare Book Room describing the history of the collection, a description of some of the more notable works, and a description of current services.  Click here to whet your appetite for a visit to the room!


Be Part of the Discussion of ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’

A  “brown-bag”  lunch discussion of the short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” will take place on Wednesday, December 2  from noon to 1:00 at the Main Library in Room 2032.  Mary Trachsel, PhD, Associate Professor & Department Chair, U of I Rhetoric Department will lead the discussion.   No reservations are necessary.

The discussion is presented as part of a special National Library of Medicine exhibition, The Literature of prescription; Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the ‘Yellow Wall-Paper’,” which examines a nineteenth-century writer’s challenge to the medical profession and the relationship between science and society.  Artist and writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who was discouraged from pursuing a career to preserve her health, rejected the ideas in a terrifying short story titled, “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”  The famous tales served as an indictment of the medical profession and the social conventions restricting women’s professional and creative opportunities. 

The exhibit is on display at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences from November 30th through January 9th.

Copies of the short story have been placed on reserve at the Main Library and the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.    You can also read the story online, here.

For additional information, please contact Ed Holtum (edwin-holtum@uiowa.edu); 335-9154, Hardin Library or Kären Mason (Karen-mason@uiowa.edu),335-5068,  Iowa Women’s Archive.


Notes from the Rare Book Room “Anatome animalium”

 Anatome animalium frontispieceGerardus Blasius (1626?-1692?).  Anatome animalium.  Amsterdam, 1681.

 Although Blasius was a practicing physician in Amsterdam, his real interest lay in anatomy and, in particular, comparative anatomy.  He worked closely with philosophers and scientists such as John Locke, Jan Swammerdam, and Niels Stensen to promote the study of anatomy and to widen the availability of both animal and human remains for closer study.  Balsius’ 1681 work  is his most ambitious project and, according to historian Francis J. Cole, is the “first comprehensive manual of comparative anatomy based on the original researches of a working anatomist…”  While the author provides meticulously detailed descriptions of 119 species, it is the eye-catching images that capture the reader’s attention.  

Anatome animalium

As usual during this period, the artists and engravers receive no recognition and remain unknown, with the exception of the highly emblematic frontispiece which is the work of the Dutch illustrator and engraver Jan Luyken (1649-1712).